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CBS, NFL Network Combine to Draw 20.8 Million for ‘Thursday Night Football’

UPDATE: The “Thursday Night Football” opener drew a combined 20.77 million viewers on CBS and NFL Network, according to updated Nielsen estimates. The game is being sold to advertisers as a single rating; but according to ratings breakouts for cable, NFL Net drew 3.43 million, which means CBS drew 17.34 million.

The audience is 89% larger than the 11 million who watched last year’s first “Thursday Night Football” game, which aired only on NFL Network.

In adults 18-49, the game did a 7.5 combined rating, including a 1.6 on NFL Network.

For all of primetime (8-11 p.m.), the networks averaged 19.44 million viewers and a 6.9 in adults 18-49 — this is better than CBS has done (by itself) on any Thursday since November 2007 (“Survivor,” “CSI” and “Without a Trace”).


Against the backdrop of controversy surrounding the NFL for its handling of a domestic violence incident involving one of its players, CBS debuted its shiny new “Thursday Night Football” package to strong ratings last night.

According to Nielsen’s metered-market overnight ratings measuring 56 of the country’s largest cities, the Baltimore Ravens’ 26-6 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers average a 13.7 household rating/23 share on CBS and NFL Network — more than double the 6.6/12 rating that NFL Network alone did a year ago for its first Thursday game (6.6/12 for New York Jets-New England Patriots).

Broken down, CBS drew an 11.2 rating, and NFL Network did a 2.5.

The rating may have been boosted by the maelstrom surrounding the league’s punishment of Ray Rice, but it also likely was dinged a bit by the lopsided result. The Ravens dominated the second half and put the game away with three fourth-quarter field goals.

For the night, CBS and NFL Network averaged a 12.9 household rating/22 share in the metered markets, more than triple what CBS did a year ago on the comparable night (4.1/7) with “Big Brother” and other, mostly repeat programming.

By comparison to other primetime games this season, the 13.7 rating came in below NBC’s first two games (16.8 for Green Bay-Seattle and 15.1 for Indianapolis-Denver) and ahead of ESPN’s first two “Monday Night Football” games (9.2 for New York Giants-Detroit and 7.8 for San Diego-Arizona).

Total-viewer estimates will be released later today by Nielsen, but Thursday’s game is expected to have drawn somewhere in the 21 million-22 million range.

CBS is pulling out all the stops for “Thursday Night Football,” which it is producing itself and features the network’s No. 1 announcing team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. Launching the franchise has been one of the biggest marketing inititiatives — from every corner of the network — in CBS history.

The Eye and NFL Network are simulcasting games for seven consecutive Thursdays before the cable network begins airing the games exclusively in late October.

NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” averaged 22 million viewers last season to make it TV’s most-watched show, according to Nielsen “live plus same-day” estimates. ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” averaged 13.7 million, and the “Thursday Night Football” package on NFLN averaged 7.1 million (a record).

The eight games airing on CBS this fall (seven Thursdays and a Saturday night contest in December) figure to average a larger audience than “Monday Night Football,” but not approach the lofty numbers achieved by “Sunday Night Football.”

Advertisers are shelling out an estimated $500,000 per 30-second spot on “Thursday Night Football” (the same ads air on both CBS and NFL Network), making it the fall’s second most expensive primetime program (behind NBC’S “Sunday Night Football” at about $675,000), according to a Variety analysis.

Elsewhere on Thursday, the season premiere of “The Biggest Loser” on NBC averaged a 1.6 rating/5 share in adults 18-49 and 5.4 million viewers overall from 8 to 10 p.m. to stand as the night’s top-rated non-sports program on the Big Four. While a pretty good number for NBC on a Thursday, it was down 30% from the 2.3 it debuted with when it launched its most recent season, last October (on a Tuesday).

NBC finished the night with a “Dateline” special, “The Secret Lives of Pets” (1.0/3 in 18-49, 4.2 million viewers overall).

At ABC, the season finale of “The Quest” settled for a 0.5/1 in 18-49 and 1.8 million viewers overall from 8 to 10 p.m., on par with its week-ago score. A repeat “Shark Tank” capped the night (0.7/2 in 18-49, 2.6 million viewers overall).

Fox aired repeats of “Hell’s Kitchen” (0.8/3 in 18-49, 2.5 million viewers overall) and “Bones” (0.6/2 in 18-49, 2.5 million viewers overall), and CW went with encores of “The Vampire Diaries” (0.3/1 in 18-49, 0.7 million viewers overall) and “The Originals” (0.2/1 in 18-49, 0.6 million viewers overall).

The CBS average from 8:30 to 11 p.m. last night for “Thursday Night Football” was a 5.5/17 in 18-49 and 15.9 million viewers overall, but these numbers are underare unreliable since they don’t include the full duration of the game, West Coast viewing or the audience watching the simulcast on NFL Network.

Preliminary 18-49 averages for the night: CBS, 5.2/17; NBC, 1.4/4; Univision, 1.1/4; Fox, 0.7/2; Telemundo, 0.6/2; ABC, 0.5/2; CW, 0.2/1.

In total viewers: CBS, 15.2 million; NBC, 5.0 million; Univision, 2.8 million; Fox, 2.5 million; ABC, 2.1 million; Telemundo, 1.5 million; CW, 0.7 million.

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